1902 Encyclopedia > United States > United States - Agriculture

United States
(Part 23)


Part 23. Agriculture

Agriculture has been the chief and most characteristic work of the American people, that in which they have achieved the greatest results in proportion to the resources at command, that in which their economic superiority has been most strikingly manifest. In ten years from 1790, the mean population of the period being 4,500,000. 65,000 square miles were for the first time brought within the limits of settlement, crossed with roads and bridges, covered with dwellings, both public and private, much of it also cleared of primeval forest; and this in addition to keeping up and improving the whole extent of previous settlements, and building towns and cities at a score of favored points. In the next decade, the mean number of inhabitants being about 6,500,000, population extended itself over 98,000 square miles of absolutely new territory,, - an area eight times as large as Holland. Between 1810 and 1820, besides increasing the density of population on almost every league of the older territory, besides increasing their manufacturing capital twofold, in spite of a three years war, the people of the United States advanced their frontier to occupy 101,000 square miles, the mean population being 8,250,000. Between 1820 and 1830 124,000 square miles were brought within the frontiers and made the seat of habitation and cultivation; between 1830 and 1840, 175,000 square miles; between 1840 and 1850, 215,000 square miles. The war of secession, indeed, checked the westward flow of population, though it caused no refluence, but between 1870 and 1880 territory embracing 297,000 square miles was reclaimed from the wilderness and the desert, was divided into farms, crossed everywhere by roads and here and there by railroads, and dotted over with dwellings.

That which has allowed this great work to be done so rapidly and fortunately has been first, the popular tenure of the soil, and secondly, the character of the agriculture class. At no time have the cultivators of the soil north of the Potomac and Ohio constituted a peasantry in the ordinary sense of that term. They have been the same kind of men, precisely out of the same homes, generally with the same early training, as those who filled the learned professions or who were engaged in manufacturing or commercial pursuits. Switzerland and Scotland have, in a degree, approached the United States in this particular; but there is no other considerable country where as much mental activity and alertness has been applied to the cultivation of the soil as to trade and manufactures.

But even the causes which have been adduced would have failed to produce such effects but for the exceptional inventive ingenuity of the American. The mechanical genius which has entered into manufactures in the United States, the engineering skill which has guided the construction of the greatest works of the continent, have been far exceeded in the hurried "improvements" of the pioneer farm; in the housing of women, children, and live stock and gathered crop against the storms of the first winters; in the rough and ready reconnaissances which determined the "lay of the land" and the capabilities of the soil; in the preparation for the thousand exigencies of primitive agriculture. It is no exaggeration to say that the chief manufacture of the United States, thus far, has been the manufactures of four million farms, comprising 540,000,000 acres.

The people of the United States, finding themselves on a continent containing an almost limitless extent of land of fair average fertility, having at the start but little accumulated capital and urgent occasions for the economy of labor, have elected to regard the land in the earliest stages of occupation as practically of no value and to regard labor as of high value. In pursuance of this view they have freely sacrificed the land, so far as was necessary, in order to save labor, systematically cropping the fields on the principle of obtaining the largest results with the least expenditure, limiting improvements to what was demanded for immediate uses, and caring little about returning to the soil an equivalent for the properties taken from it in the harvest of successive years. But, so far as the Northern States are concerned, the enormous profits of this alleged wasteful cultivation have in the main been applied, not to personal consumption, but to permanent improvements,- not indeed to improvements of the land, but to what were still more needed in the situation, namely, improvements upon the land. The first-fruits of a virgin soil have been expended in forms which have vastly enhanced the productive power of the country. The land, doubtless, as one factor of that productive power, became temporarily less efficient than it would have been under a conservative European treatment; but the joint product of the three factors-land, labor, and capital-was for the time enormously increased. Under this regimen the fertility of the land of course in time necessarily declined, sooner or later according to the nature of the crops grown and to the degree of original strength in the soil. Resort was then had to new fields farther west. The granary of the continent moved first to western New York, thence into the Ohio valley, and then, again, to the banks of the Mississippi. The north and south line dividing the wheat product o the United States into two equal parts was in 1850 drawn along the 82nd meridian. In 1860 that line was drawn along the 85th, in 1870 along the 88th, in 1880 along the 89th. Meanwhile one portion o the inhabitants of the earlier settlements joined in the movement across the face of the continent. As the grain center passed on to the west they followed it, too restless by character and habit to find pleasure in the work of stable communities. A second portion of the inhabitants became engaged in raising, upon limited areas, small crops, garden vegetables, and orchard fruits, and in producing butter, milk, poultry, and eggs, for the supply of the cities and manufacturing towns which had been built up out of the abundant profits of the primitive agricultural. Still another portion of the agricultural population gradually became occupied in the more careful and intense culture of the cereal crops upon the better lands, the less eligible fields being allowed to spring up in brush and wood. Deep sloughing and thorough drainage were resorted to; fertilizers were employed to bring up and to keep up the soil; and thus began the serious systematic agriculture of the older States. Something continued to be done in wheat, but not much. New York raised 13 million bushels in 1850; thirty years later she raised the same amount. Pennsylvania raised 15 _ million bushels in 1850; in 1880 she raised 19 _ million bushels. More is done in Indian corn (maize), that most prolific cereal, the backbone of American agriculture; still more is done relatively in buckwheat, barley, and rye. Pennsylvania, though the tenth State in wheat production, stands first in rye, second in buckwheat, third in oats. New York is only thirteenth in wheat, but first in buckwheat, second in barley, third in rye. We do not, however, reach the full significance of the situation until we account for the fourth portion of the former agricultural population, in noting how naturally and fortunately commercial and manufacturing cities spring up on the sites which have been prepared for them by the lavish expenditure of the enormous profits of a primitive agriculture upon permanently useful improvements of a constructive character. These towns are the gifts of agriculture.

The agricultural returns for 1880 showed a total of 4,008,907 farms comprising 536,081,835 acres, of which 284,771,042 were improved and 251,310,793 unimproved. The improved lands were made up of 223,967,144 acres of titled lands, including fallow or grasses in rotation, and 61,703,898 acres of permanent meadows, pastures, and orchards. The unimproved land comprises 190,255,744 acres of woodland and forest. The unimproved land in farms was in 1860, 59.9 per cent. of the total land in farms; in 1870; 53.7; in 1880, 46.9. It will be seen that the farms of 1880 comprise little more than one-third the total area of the country. The remainder consists of large fertile tracts, which will, in the near future, be embraced in farms; of extensive districts, along the frontier, occupied by the grazing interest; of water surfaces, rivers, lakes, ponds, and swamps; of barren tracts along the shore, and of the area of innumerable rugged hills and vast mountain chains; and, lastly and chiefly, of the great arid plains beyond the 100th meridian.

The value of arms, including farm buildings, returned in 1880 was $10,197,096,776; the value of farming implements and machinery, $406,520,055; of live stock on farms, $1,500,384,707. The live stock on farms comprised horses, 10,357,488; mules and asses, 1,812,080; working oxen, 993,841, milch cows, 12,443,120; other cattle, 22,488,550; sheep, exclusive of spring lambs, 35,192,074, swine, 47,681,700. the foregoing numbers relate only to live stock upon farms. The report of the special agent appointed in 1880 to canvass the grazing interest, outside the limits of defined farms, estimated the number of ranch and range animals as follows: - cattle, 3,750,000; sheep, 7,000,000; swine, 2,091,000.

The acreage and yield of the cereal grains reported in 1880 (crop of 1879) were as follows: - wheat, 35,430,333 acres, 459,483,137 bushels; Indian corn, 62,368,504 acres, 1,754,591,676 bushels; coats, 16,144,593 acres, 406,858,999 bushels; barley, 1,997,727 acres, 43,997,495 bushels; rye; 1,842,233 acres 19,831,595 bushels; buckwheat, 848,389 acres, 11,817,327 bushels.

Of wheat fourteen States produced over 10,000,000 bushels each, six States over 30,000,000. The chief producing States, with their respective crops in round millions of bushels, were Illinois, 51; Indiana, 47; Ohio; 46; Michigan, 35; Minnesota; 34; Iowa, 31; California, 29 303 million bushels were produced in regions having a mean annual temperature of between 45o and 50o F., 51 millions between 40o and 45o, 59 millions between 55o and 60o. The general average yield per acre was 13 bushels.

Of Indian corn twenty States produced over 20 million bushels each, six over 100 million. The chief producing States, with their respective crops in round millions of bushels, were Illinois, 326; Iowa, 275; Missouri, 202; Indiana, 115; Ohio, 112; Kansas, 106., 1300 million bushels were produced in regions having a mean annual temperature between 45o and 55o, 229 millions between 55o and 60o 113 millions between 60o and 65o. The average yield per acre was 28 bushels.

Of oats ten States produced over 10 million bushels each five produced over 30 millions. The chief producing States, with their respective crops in round millions of bushels, were Illinois, 63; Iowa, 51; New York, 38; Pennsylvania, 34; Wisconsin, 33. The average yield per acre was 25 bushels. Of barley five States produced over 2 million bushels, as follows: - California, 12 _; New York; 8; Wisconsin, 5; Iowa, 4; Minnesota, 3. The average yield per acre was 22 bushels. Of rye four States, namely, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Wisconsin, produced between 3 _ and 2 million bushels each. The average yield per acre was 11 bushels. Of buckwheat 70 per cent, of the crop was produced by the two States of New York (4 _ millions) and Pennsylvania (31/2 millions). The average per acre was 14 bushels.

The harvested hay crop, as reported in 1880, amounted to 35,150,711 tons from 30,631,054 acres. Thirteen States show more than one million acres mown, with a yield ranging from 0.835 ton per acre in Missouri to 1.554 tons in Minnesota. As we pass southward, the importance of the grass crop diminishes until we reach large and populous States in which but ten or twenty thousand acres or less are mown.

The statistics of dairy products, taking those both of the home diary and of the butter or cheese factory, as returned in 1880, show 806,672,071 lb of butter made, 243,157,850 lb of cheese, 217,922,090 gallons of milk sold otherwise than to cheese and butter factories.

The production of hops is mainly in two States, - New York, which in 1880 cultivated 39,072 acres in this crop, nearly all in four counties, and Wisconsin, which cultivated 4439 acres. The total area in hops was 46,800 acres, with a yield of 26,546,378 lb.

The potato crop comprised 169,458,539 bushels of Irish, grown mainly in Northern States, and 33,388,693 bushels of sweet, grown mainly in the South, although the profitable cultivation of this crop extend as far north as New Jersey.

The statistics of the wool crop in a census of the United States are necessarily defective, requiring to be supplemented by information from the outside. This is due to the great amount of wool obtained from the pelts of slaughtered sheep, to the large number of animal upon ranches and ranges along the frontier, beyond the limits of defined farms, and, thirdly, to the fact that in some regions, notably California and Texas, two clips are made each year. The gross figures for 1880, after making allowance on these accounts, were 240,681,751 lb.

The production of hemp in the census year was but 5025 tons; the products of the flax culture were stated at 7,170,951 bushels of seed 421,098 tons of straw, 1,565,546 lb of the fibre. It is in cotton, however, that the United States make their chief contribution to the fibres of the commercial world. In 1879, 5,755,359 bales were rasied on14,480,019 acres. The following table (XIV.) shows the distribution, geographically, of this most important crop:-


The other characteristic crops of the Southern States are rice tobacco, and sugar. Of rice there was raised in 1879 110,131,373 lb. Of which South Carolina produced upwards of 52 millions, Louisana and Georgia producing, in about equal proportion, nearly all the remainder. The area cultivated for the sugar-cane was 227,776 acres, from which the crop was 178,872 hhds, of sugar and 16,573,273 gallons of molasses. Of the sugar Louisiana produced 171,706 hhds.; Texas, 4951; Florida 1273; Georgia 601; South Carolina 229; Alabama, 94; Mississippi 18. In addition to the cane sugar of the far South, there were produced in the Middle and Northern States 12,792 lb of sorghum sugar and 28,444,202 gallons of sorghum mollases; while in the far North were produced 36,576,061 lb of maple sugar and 1,796,048 gallons of maple molasses. The chief sorghum, producing States are Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and Iowa. The chief maple-sugar States are Vermont, New York, Michigan, Ohio Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. The area sown in tobacco was 638,841 acres, the crop 472,661,157 ib. Fifteen States raised over 2 million pounds each; ten raised above 10 million each. The chief tobacco States were Kentucky, 171,120,784 lb; Virginia, 79,988,868; Pennsylvania, 36,943,272; Ohio, 34,735,235; Tennessee, 29,365,052; North Carolina, 26,986,213; Maryland, 26,082,147. The States next in order are Connecticut, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

In addition to the crops which have been mentioned, there were reported 10,2272, 135 barnyard fowls and 23,235,187 other fowls, producing 456,910,916 dozens of eggs; 25,743,208 lb of honey and 1,105,685 lb of wax; $50,876,154 of orchard products, $21,761,250 of market-garden products $95,774,735 of forest products; 29,480,106 lb of broom corn; 6,514,977 bushels of pease; and, 3,075,050 bushels of beans.

Since the census of 1880 the Untied States department of agricultural has published annually estimates of the successive crops down to 1886. These estimates take the latest census figures for their basis, the percentage of increase being carefully computed with reference to the statements of several thousands of local reporters. The following table (XV.) represents the estimated annual production of the cereal crops for the six or seven years quoted: -


No statistics are available regarding the tenure of non-agricultural land; but, of the 4,008,907 farms reported, 2,984,306 were cultivated by their owners, 322,357 by tenants for a fixed money rental, 702,244 by tenants paying a share of the produce as rent. In thus appears that, of each 10,000 farms, 7444 were cultivated by owners, 804 were rented for fixed money payments, and 1752 were rented for a share of the produce.

The following table (XVI.) exhibits the distribution of the farms of 1880 according to size, with the further distinction of the kind of tenure under which they were cultivated: -


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